Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Good Night for the Grizzlies; Trade Deadline Looming

Posted By on Thu, Feb 24, 2011 at 12:00 PM

Could the Hasheem Thabeet era be coming to a (merciful) end?
After getting blitzed Tuesday night by a short-handed but frisky Denver Nuggets team in what felt a little like a giddy "Home Alone" game for the home team, the Grizzlies got back on track last night, picking up a 104-95 road win against the Minnesota Timberwolves in a game they controlled from the opening tip. After subpar performances against the Nuggets, Zach Randolph (24-10-5) and Mike Conley (22-5-9) bounced back with strong games, and the wing rotation without Rudy Gay looks decent two games in: Tony Allen has averaged 21 points, 5.5 boards, and 1.5 steals over the two games. Sam Young has averaged 13 rebounds and 2 steals but, more significantly, has replicated Gay's recent strong rebounding from the small forward position with 8 a game. And while O.J. Mayo's three-point stroke hasn't really been there with 3-14 long-range shooting over two games, he's played with both more swagger and impact off the bench these past two games, scoring 21 points on 8-14 shooting against the Nuggets and scoring 9 points but with 6 assists and 3 steals against the Wolves.

The Grizzlies also got some help with losses by the Utah Jazz and Portland Trailblazers last night.

The Standings: With the win over the Timberwolves and the Jazz loss to the Mavs, the Grizzlies moved back into the final playoff slot, half a game ahead of the Jazz and a game behind the Blazers, who are 7th. The Grizzlies are 1.5 games behind the 6th-place Denver Nuggets and 2 games back of the 5th-place New Orleans Hornets. Game of consequence tonight: The Nuggets are at home against the Boston Celtics.

The Larger Landscape: Beyond just the movement in the standings based on last night's games, the biggest news for the Grizzlies was the Utah Jazz's unexpected trade of all-star point guard Deron Williams to the New Jersey Nets. The bet here is that this deal has a more profound impact on the standings that Denver's Carmelo Anthony/Chauncey Billups deal. Given the quality of their coaching, their tremendous depth, and their big home-court advantage, I think the Nuggets have a good chance to hang on. But the Jazz were sinking even before coach Jerry Sloan resigned and haven't won a game since his departure. In Williams, they're losing a better player than Anthony and with less depth of talent to make up for it. Right, they're getting Devin Harris back from the Nets, but there's not a lot of evidence of Harris' ability to keep a team competitive from his Jersey days.

Deadline Looming: The trade deadline is now only a few hours away. The guess here is that rumors relating to O.J. Mayo and, especially, Zach Randolph don't amount to anything. But I think there's probably a better than even chance of Hasheem Thabeet moving. By my count — based on either other media reports and/or people I've talked to — there are a handful of teams with some established interest in Thabeet: Houston, Oklahoma City, Denver, Utah, Miami, and Toronto.

The hottest possibility appears to be Houston. The Grizzlies and Rockets discussed a swap built around Thabeet and Shane Battier early in the season, but it didn't go anywhere with Houston demanding more in return. And now, unsurprisingly, given where the teams find themselves several months later, the talks have heated back up, as reported by Chris Vernon last night and pushed further along by the Commercial Appeal this morning. The Rockets apparently want a first-round pick in addition to Thabeet. Given that Battier is an expiring contract and would be difficult for the Grizzlies to justify re-signing this summer, giving up a first-rounder along with Thabeet seems to be asking too much. But I think the desire to move off Thabeet's guaranteed money for next season and to add another contributor for the current playoff run is strong enough that there's a good chance some kind of Thabeet deal gets done. What the team can't do is move Thabeet in a pure salary dump or give up another asset just to free themselves from the salary obligation. After all: The Grizzlies chose to pick up Thabeet's option for next season. They did not have to do so.

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